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The Roman plays we know best, the comedies of Plautus and Terence, were first performed when we know least about where and how plays were staged. Greater attention to production values and advances in the study of Roman material culture offer new insights. This essay looks specifically at the Forum Romanum, a documented site for theatrical and gladiatorial shows in Republican Rome, combining textual and material evidence with computer-generated models to explore the possibilities for performances in this area. How the venue may have shaped the extant texts and what those texts may reveal about the venue are also considered.

i. introduction: actors and audiences

however problematic "dramatic illusion" may be as a tool for understanding the techniques of ancient theater practice, Plautus was by anyone's reckoning an acknowledged master at breaking it.1 Here is the miser Euclio, now desperate to find his lost pot of gold. [End Page 139]

obsecro vos ego, mi auxilio, oro, obtestor, sitis et hominem demonstretis, quis eam abstulerit. quid est? quid ridetis? novi omnes, scio fures esse hic complures, qui vestitu et creta occultant sese atque sedent quasi sint frugi. quid ais tu? tibi credere certum est, nam esse bonum ex voltu cognosco. hem, nemo habet horum? occidisti. dic igitur, quis habet? nescis?

Please help me, all of you!

I beg, I beseech you to point out the man who stole it.

What's that? Why are you laughing? I know you all. I know there are many thieves here,

who hide themselves in fancy clothes and sit around pretending to be honest men.

What do you say? You I'll believe for sure: I see from your face you're a decent sort.

What? None of these has it? You've ruined me. Tell me, who has it? You don't know?

(Aul. 715–20)

We might say at first glance that moments like this are fairly common in Plautus: the prologue-speaker of Captivi, who interrupts his own exposition almost before it begins to badger a recalcitrant spectator, is a particularly notable example (Capt. 10–14). Such extra-dramatic "business," not just an isolated comment aside, but a semblance of interaction with spectators, occurs primarily in prologues and epilogues, which slip easily between exposition and stand-up comedy as the speaker focuses, settles, or dismisses his audience.

Our Aulularia moment is something more, for it both interrupts the action and becomes strikingly personal.2 Euclio moves from a conventionally general [End Page 140] address to a specific target. He singles out one member of the audience (quid ais tu?, 719) and does not let go. The gag draws not just on his words, but on the expectant, embarrassed pauses as he waits impatiently for a reply that will never come. Plautus here creates something odder and edgier than ostensibly comparable prologue-moments. He not only interrupts and retards the flow of the action and appears to discommode a member of the audience, but in doing so he makes the other spectators uncomfortable as well as they fidget with anxiety or sigh with relief. The very unexpectedness of Euclio's appeal puts them on edge because they can no longer be sure of the boundaries between, in Roman terms, the action centered on the scaena and the notionally passive, safe anonymity of the cavea, and the effect lingers because once it is destabilized in this way, the balance between scaena and cavea cannot be fully restored.3 Audience members can never be sure if that moment of interruption was unique or if another will soon be sprung on them.

A passage like this encourages, even demands that we think about the play as a performance. Once we recognize that the words of our text are indications of action, that action begins to work itself out in the mind's eye, which then raises an important question and a very big problem. What would a contemporary Roman spectator have seen? The question is inseparable from the problem because of a paradox that students of Roman comedy know all too well: the surviving dramatic texts are significantly earlier than the surviving Roman theaters. The material history of theaters in the city only begins for us with Pompey's theatrum magnum of 55 b.c.e., by which time Terence had been dead for over a century and Plautus for even longer.4 Earlier evidence for the kinds of temporary theater they might have known, together with the reports of thwarted attempts to build more permanent facilities, belong more securely to the history of Roman moral discourse than to the record of [End Page 141] theatrical practice.5 Can a moment like this one in Aulularia help us escape the limitations of the historical record, freeing us to imagine what Plautus's own performance space was like and how the stage effects he employed would have worked on his audiences? Caution is certainly required. Experienced actors with talent and imagination can perform almost any kind of script in any kind of place: it would be most unwise to argue that this script must have been written for this space and performed in this way. Yet a passage like ours at least suggests that the dramatist is taking advantage of a particular kind of performance space, much as Shakespeare apparently wrote somewhat differently for the outdoor Globe and indoor Blackfriars.6 If so, it is worth thinking critically about the physical conditions that encouraged Plautus to make such direct contact with his audience.

The performance space available to dramatists of the mid-Republic was certainly very different from what the grand theaters of the later Roman world provided. The very monumentality of Pompey's theater, not to mention the stage effects it encouraged, seems antithetical to a purely dramatic art, as modern reconstructions of the space suggest and Cicero's own contemporary account of performances there seems to confirm. Its scaenae frons (Fig. 1) appears much more congenial to the pageantry that so annoyed Cicero than to the intimacies of, say, a comic monologue.7 [End Page 142]

Figure 1. The scaenae frons of the Theater of Pompey. Reconstruction by John Burge and James Packer for The Pompey Project ()
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Figure 1.

The scaenae frons of the Theater of Pompey. Reconstruction by John Burge and James Packer for The Pompey Project (

It is much easier to imagine a play of Plautus or Terence staged in a space like that of Figure 2, which is conceived on a much more manageable scale, but even this is distinctly problematic.8

Figure 2. Roman Stage after Vitruvius 5.6. Reconstructed by T. G. Smith for . Reproduced by permission of the author.
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Figure 2.

Roman Stage after Vitruvius 5.6. Reconstructed by T. G. Smith for Smith 2003. Reproduced by permission of the author.

[End Page 143] No theater of this type is attested for the time of Plautus and Terence. The public festivals of the mid-Republic, the only formal occasions known for producing plays in the city at this time, were conducted under quite different conditions.

The distinctive Roman theater structure familiar from later times was created by joining the stage building to the top level of the auditorium, thus producing a completely enclosed and formal space.9 Informality, however, was the norm at Rome throughout the time of Plautus and Terence. Plautus may speak of his audience in a cavea, literally a cage (and quite often a henhouse), but the performance spaces he knew were not in fact enclosed.10 Roman audiences in the cavea could see much more than just the actors before them. That, says Terence, is why his Hecyra came to grief on the Palatine at the Megalensia of 165 b.c.e.11

quom primum eam agere coepi, pugilum gloria(funambuli eodem accessit exspectatio),comitum conuentu', strepitu', clamor mulierumfecere ut ante tempus exirem foras. [End Page 144]

When I first began to perform it, talk of boxers(desire for a tightrope-walker there set in),a crowd of supporters, a commotion, women's criesarose, so I had to make a premature exit.

(Hec. 33–6, cf. 1–5)

It is not clear—Terence may in fact be deliberately unclear—whether the rope-walker and the boxers were setting up their display on the periphery or expecting to occupy the actors' own performance space, but their proximity certainly caused a distraction within the narrow confines of the temple precinct where the games were held. The audience, then, was not sheltered from external activity. What must have recalled a hen-house to the Roman mind was not that this cavea was enclosed, but that it was tiered. Actors looked out on spectators "perched" around the temple podium like so many roosting hens.12 Without a unified structure to join actors and audience in a shared commitment to the performance, actors would have had to work quite deliberately to win and maintain the spectators' attention. To understand the demands and expectations they faced in playing under such conditions requires some idea of what it was like to see a play the Roman way. We need a stage and a place to put it, and even if we cannot establish with authority where and under what conditions a given play was performed, the exercise will at least serve to anchor our speculations as firmly as possible in the available evidence.

ii. building a stage

How should we imagine the platform from which these Republican Roman actors worked? It is easiest to begin where everyone begins, with the so-called phlyax-vases produced in southern Italy and Sicily in the course of the fourth and early third centuries b.c.e. Some forty-four of these vases depict a stage, though in varying levels of detail and specificity. Just a few clearly depict memorable scenes from specific plays, most famously the Würzburg "Telephos" vase, which Oliver Taplin so brilliantly identified with the Euripidean parody in Thesmophoriazusae, and the "goose" vases in New York and Boston that no doubt illustrate two different scenes from the same, otherwise unidentified [End Page 145] play.13 As a group, the vases show the essential elements of stage structures in use: the actors' platform itself, functional doors at the rear (though a scaenae frons is never fully depicted), and perhaps most striking because not explicitly acknowledged in any surviving Greek or Latin script (but obviously of great dramatic value), a set of steps providing access to the platform from the front.14 Missing, interestingly enough, are the means of entrance and exit at the wings that our scripts plainly require: they probably fell victim to the painters' desire to have the stage structure frame the action, which may then create a false sense of how much is happening and when and how. The other great absence is the lack of a surrounding theater to house the action. The painters were almost entirely uninterested in depicting an audience, in representing the relationship between action and audience, or in providing any clue about where these stages might be situated.15 Their testimony can thus be maddeningly and perhaps misleadingly vague, since the artists aimed not to create fully formed documents in the history of theater but only to stimulate memory of specific theatrical moments. Even the most specific images, then, recall rather than reproduce what audiences saw in performance.

And what is the relevance of these images to the experience of Roman audiences? Despite their Italian provenance, the connection to Roman theatrical traditions could be questioned: a century and more separates the latest of these vases from the earliest fragments of Roman dramatic texts, and they represent plays performed in the old comic style of fifth-century Athens, not the New Comedy that Roman dramatists eventually adapted to their needs. Those mythological parodies called phlyakes, which as a native Italian invention may claim some general relevance to the history of Latin drama, also postdate the vases by nearly a century.16 Yet the elements of drama were hardly unknown [End Page 146] in more northern regions. In contemporary Latium, artisans were decorating bronze cistae and mirrors with mythological and even Dionysiac scenes that suggest a lively narrative tradition, and while not as overtly theatrical as so much of the south Italian material, their testimony may yet be joined to the mounting evidence of a flourishing Italiote market for theater-based decoration. T. P. Wiseman's claim of "a common fourth-century culture of mimetic representation extending far beyond the Greek cities of southern Italy into Latium and Etruria" is today hardly far-fetched.17 To recreate an ancient stage platform using the testimony of the vases is not unreasonable, even as we balance the evidence of those representations against the demands of our texts and the lessons of our own experience.

Figure 3. UCLA Reconstructed Roman Stage. A model stage developed from the calculations of by the UCLA Humanities Virtual World Consortium at the UCLA Experiential Technology Center under the direction of Professor Chris Johanson. The model builder was Marie Saldaña.
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Figure 3.

UCLA Reconstructed Roman Stage. A model stage developed from the calculations of Hughes 2012 by the UCLA Humanities Virtual World Consortium at the UCLA Experiential Technology Center under the direction of Professor Chris Johanson. The model builder was Marie Saldaña.

A logical procedure begins with a fairly literal rendering of what the vases show, though always with an eye to the space the stage was to occupy and the work it was expected to do. By applying basic principles of construction [End Page 147] in wood, Alan Hughes initially calculated that stages depicted on the vases would have been "at least 20 to 24 feet wide and 3.5 to 6 feet high" (Hughes 1996: 106), but that would produce a platform too high and unstable for comfortable performance. More practicable are the revised dimensions shown in Figure 3, much easier for directors to work with, but now distinctly lower and including the ramps at the wings that our texts demand.18

Figure 4. UCLA Reconstructed Roman Stage, Decoration Added.
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Figure 4.

UCLA Reconstructed Roman Stage, Decoration Added.

To provide shape, scale, and color to the backdrop, scholars routinely look to Roman wall painting. Painters working in what we now call the "second style" might fill long expanses of wall with recollections of comic, tragic, or satyric stage sets (Vitr. De arch. 7.5.2), which in the case of comedy meant the representation of ordinary private buildings (De arch. 5.6.9). Examples of this practice have been identified most convincingly in the Room of the Masks in Augustus's house on the Palatine and in the villa at Oplontis, and in 2002–03 the Skenographia Project directed by Richard Beacham and Hugh Denard actually lifted these images off the walls and tested them in three dimensions.19 The results cannot be taken literally. The architectural motifs in these paintings are adapted to the walls they occupy, the rooms they brighten, and the patrons they had to please. There are Escher-like tricks to the designs that play with the perspective. Color and scale nevertheless provide some authority for the structure shown here as Figure 4. [End Page 148]

Yet this remains a stage in isolation. Where, in the Roman context, does it belong and how would it have been used?

iii. establishing the venue

These are, strictly speaking, unanswerable questions. Temporary stages left no footprint for archaeology to discover, and written sources either avoid or take for granted much of the mundane detail on which fully satisfactory answers might rest. Certainties are therefore impossible, but some conclusions can be drawn by combining various realities of Roman social practice with the material record. State-sponsored ludi scaenici were traditionally held in close proximity to the temple of the god being honored, although they may (at least eventually) have spilled beyond the sacred precinct. The Senate's notorious reluctance in the course of the second century to authorize the building of any permanent theater within the city may well reflect, at least in part, a reluctance to sever this traditional physical connection between the god and the occasion.20 That commitment did not make things easy for dramatists. The site of the Megalensia on the Palatine Hill, for example, was particularly cramped, and while Terence may have favored that venue precisely because its intimacy suited his type of play (four of his six plays debuted at the Megalensia), its restriction certainly contributed to the difficulty, whatever it was, that dogged the first production of Hecyra in 165. Private occasions for staging plays, i.e., munera not part of the official calendar, might have been no more secure.21

Funeral games provide an especially good example of this phenomenon since they always had a distinctly improvisational element, and not only because they so often came on short notice. Unlike regularly scheduled ludi, whose official status put magistrates in charge and mixed religious and civic functions on an established basis, funerary munera were privately motivated [End Page 149] and reflected the capabilities and resources of the sponsoring family.22 They were not of fixed length, nor was the gladiatorial combat we associate with them a necessary feature. Polybius's famous description of the Roman aristocratic funeral describes the pompa and laudatio and digresses on the role of ancestral imagines, but he mentions no other attendant spectacles, while the gladiators provided for the funeral of Aemilius Paullus figure in his account as an optional expense, not a requirement of the occasion.23 Gladiators were expensive as well as exciting, and therefore newsworthy, which is why Livy seems to take special pains to record their appearance. Most funerals were too small to attract the historian's notice, as he explicitly notes for the year 174, and many of them no doubt passed entirely unrecorded.24 And so, we must admit, did the production of plays. Paullus's funeral in 160, for example, was very much like a state occasion. Attention focused not just on the lavish gladiatorial show that Polybius mentions, but on the bier decorated with Macedonian trophies and the fact that Spaniards, Ligurians, and Macedonians volunteered to carry it, giving the funeral procession the air of a triumph.25 No ancient historical source mentions plays performed on this occasion, even [End Page 150] though two by the leading dramatist of the day (Terence) shared the bill. Only the didascaliae accompanying Hecyra and Adelphoe record that fact, indirectly supported by two passages in their respective prologues, one acknowledging patronage by anonymous homines nobilis (Ad. 15), which might be a veiled reference to Paullus and his circle (Ad. 15–21), and the other describing what must surely be the most notorious fiasco in Roman theater history.

Terence tells us what happened when Hecyra was brought back for a second production on this occasion. The speaker is his producer, Ambivius Turpio.

primo actu placeo; quom interea rumor venitdatum iri gladiatores, populu' convolat,tumultuantur clamant, pugnant de loco:ego interea meum non potui tutari locum.

At first I was satisfied. Then, when a report camethat gladiators would perform, a crowd gathered.There was tumult, shouting, fighting for places:I could not keep my place through all that.

(Hec. 39–42)

This account, which has long embarrassed and puzzled critics, is especially important since it both confirms the implication drawn from its first failure that audiences were not sheltered from their surroundings (Hec. 1–5, 33–6), and it provides our only evidence for how entertainment was arranged at funeral games. Responsibility for this second disaster cannot be ascribed to the play's own audience, which has sometimes (mistakenly) been thought to have preferred gladiators to the refinement of a Terentian comedy: populus convolat (40) can only mean "a crowd gathered," i.e., a second crowd arrived, whose demand for places disrupted the performance in progress.26 What does that say about the conditions under which the play was performed?

Actors and gladiators must have shared a venue: the story makes no sense unless the fight for places arose because audiences expected to watch either kind of show from the same location. That location was the forum, where we know gladiatorial contests were staged together with the other features of [End Page 151] funeral games.27 The spectators' scuffle also implies that access to the viewing area was open and uncontrolled, since the new crowd could simply move in on the original one. We might well expect this in the 160s, when the forum remained the most physically irregular, socially diverse, unregulated public space in the city, a jumble of houses, shops, temples, and civic structures alive with the concomitant sights, sounds, and smells of commercial, religious, and civic life. For Plautus (Curc. 470–84), it was a hive of activity, official and unofficial, legitimate and nefarious; over a century later, when Pompey ringed the tribunal with troops to enforce order at Milo's trial, it was still impossible to keep the noise of the forum entirely at bay.28 How might the agents of Paullus's sons, Scipio and Fabius, have done any better with private means?

These basic facts of the forum and the range of activities conducted there present a formidable challenge to one common view of its use as a performance space: anything like the elaborate wooden arena posited for gladiatorial shows by Katherine Welch (Fig. 5) would have made the scene Terence describes all but impossible.29

There are two serious objections. First, at some 67m in diameter, this hypothetical amphitheater is too large. Together with its enclosing grandstand, the structure would have dominated the eastern end of the forum: how it accommodated the shrine of Cloacina, itself a small raised platform topped by a balustrade and two statues, and the fenced enclosure of the lacus Curtius [End Page 152]

Figure 5. Forum Arena: Plan. Created by Philip Stinson as Fig 23 in .
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Figure 5.

Forum Arena: Plan. Created by Philip Stinson as Fig 23 in Welch 2007: 52.

to the south is not specified.30 Note too that the Campanian amphitheaters on which it is modeled were built to accommodate more than gladiatorial combat. At Pompeii, for example, venationes were regularly advertised together with the gladiatorial pairings, and animal hunts required considerably more space than men in single combat. A very large, enclosed space was thus integral to the design.31 Versatility on that scale was not required at the funeral [End Page 153] games of the mid-Republic, for which only gladiators are documented. How much space two fighters required can be better imagined not from later amphitheaters but from the many Hellenistic theaters that were modified in Roman times to accommodate arena-style shows. These were much smaller. At Athens, the orchestra after such modification had a diameter of 26.53m. At Aphrodisias, it was ca. 25m, at Ephesus, 33.62m. The elliptical arena created out of the theater at Dodona measures 33.1m x 28.15m.32 All these were elaborate permanent structures with stone barriers, a podium, and sometimes even piping for sea-fights. The diameter of an improvised arena for fighters alone was no doubt smaller still.

Second, purpose-built seats were not required for shows in the forum, though some kind of proto-amphitheater there is commonly assumed.33 The only evidence for such a thing is a story Plutarch tells about Gaius Gracchus: when many other magistrates (τῶν ἀρχόντων οἱ πλεῖστοι) erected grandstands in order to sell seats to a gladiatorial show, Gracchus sent in crews to tear them down so that the people's traditional viewing places would not be impeded.34 The point of the story is not that these θεωρητήρια were common practice, but that they were exceptional: the Roman people expected gladiatorial displays to be open and free.35 A far less formal arrangement, the functional equivalent [End Page 154] of the Roman practice before temples, is confirmed by Vitruvius (De arch. 5.1–2), who points out that the traditionally close spacing of columns in a Greek stoa is unsuited for Roman fora.

Italiae vero urbibus non eadem est ratione faciendum, ideo quod a maioribus consuetudo tradita est gladiatoria munera in foro dari. igitur circum spectacula spatiosiora intercolumnia distribuantur circaque in porticibus argentariae tabernae maenianaque superioribus coaxationibus conlocentur; quae et ad usum et ad vectigalia publica recta erunt disposita.

In the cities of Italy, however, it should not be done the same way because we have inherited from our ancestors the custom of giving gladiatorial games in the forum. For this reason, distribute more spacious intercolumniations around the performance space, and in the surrounding porticoes place the moneychangers' shops and balconies on the upper stories; both will then be correctly placed for the viewers' convenience and for bringing in revenue.

Upper stories were available to provide privileged (and conceivably profitable) seating, the Roman equivalent of theater boxes, but people at street level expected unhindered views.36 Even as late as Cicero's day, when arrangements might certainly be more elaborate, spectators could still expect gladiators to be visible from as far as the Capitol even as others crowded around barriers erected in the forum.37

With existing forum buildings to accommodate spectators, theatrical shows needed only to add a stage for the actors, while gladiators would require simply [End Page 155] a layer of sand on the ground and barriers (Cicero's cancelli) to define the space for combat and keep an enthusiastic public at a safe distance.38 That spectators drawn to the funeral of Aemilius Paullus might think a gladiatorial show was in preparation even while a play was being performed is therefore hardly a conceptual impossibility. Even if the rumor seemed unlikely, people might well show up on the chance it might be true. The outstanding questions then are where that potential audience would have gathered and what vantage points they might have fought over to see the show. The venue would have to be sufficiently compact to allow easy interaction between actors and audience, adequately sheltered from the ongoing commercial bustle of the forum, and yet close enough to those forum buildings suitable for accommodating spectators. A large-scale funeral, like that of Aemilius Paullus, would have required enough space for both a stage and an arena before the common viewing area.

These are not new problems, but new tools for exploring solutions are emerging. UCLA's Romelab working group is developing a virtual Rome specifically designed to facilitate the development and testing of space-based arguments about the ancient city.39 Its models of the Republican forum already allow us to test, albeit in preliminary ways, the feasibility of performance venues in this area. Two sets of tools are currently available. The first provides three-dimensional models of the forum based on archeological and geospatial data, which offer a reasonable idea of how the main landmarks in this area were arranged in 210 b.c.e. and again in 160 b.c.e. (Fig. 6). [End Page 156]

Figure 6. Screen Shot: The Forum Romanum ca. 210 looking south from the Capitol toward the Temple of Vesta as it appears in UCLA's RomeLab ().
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Figure 6.

Screen Shot: The Forum Romanum ca. 210 b.c.e. looking south from the Capitol toward the Temple of Vesta as it appears in UCLA's RomeLab (

Identification of structures is provided using the column on the right, and a user can test the interplay of light and shadow by selecting the month and time of day from the menu labeled "Settings" [☼] and rotating the model to consider it from different perspectives. A second, interactive model provides the opportunity to "walk" through the forum with the help of avatars, to position a stage (or an arena) within it, and by manipulating that structure and the avatar to see the consequences for spectators and performers of various locations and orientations.

The current versions of these models do share one notable inadequacy. A genuine audience would want to hear as well as see a production. Plautine wordplay loses its effect if not heard. So do the psychological subtleties of Terence's monologues, while the very inclusion of the tibicen in the surviving didascaliae testifies to the importance of music in shaping the overall dramatic experience. Our VR models are silent and remain in this respect incomplete, in part because the acoustic properties of the reconstructed space remain largely conjectural, and in part because the ambient noise of the forum and the specific sounds to be projected from the stage, spoken or sung, vocal or instrumental, are difficult to hypothesize.40 At present we can only reserve a [End Page 157] place for sound in our calculus of production, yet even with this limitation, the current models literally open new perspectives on familiar arguments and stimulate the formation of new ones. Consider, for example, what happens to one basic source of information about the staging of plays in the forum when examined with the help of these tools.

Midway through Plautus's Curculio an extra-dramatic character identified in the manuscripts as Choragus ("stage-manager" in Roman stage-speak) interrupts the action to regale the audience with a free-standing monologue (Curc. 466–86). His speech describes the kinds of (largely disreputable) people to be encountered in the city, its satiric tone recalling Plautine currens speeches like Curculio's initial entrance mocking those who might get in his way (280–302) and the parasite Ergasilus's entrance at Captivi 768–833, when he affects the stance of servus currens and delights in the thought of confounding those he may encounter.41 Yet the Choragus is in one respect quite different: his urban landscape is no fiction. References to the shrine of Cloacina (471), Temple of Castor (481), and Vicus Tuscus (483) make clear that while the play may be set at Epidaurus, his audience will think of the forum at Rome. The speech is cast as a tour, an idea that in turn encourages belief that these landmarks were visible to the audience as the speaker points them out. If so, the play would have been written for performance in the forum, and if the Choragus is indicating structures in a coherent order—along the eastern side south from the Comitium (470), back up the middle past the Cloaca Maxima (canalis, 470) and lacus (Curtius? 477), and down again along the western side to the Temple of Castor is the usual hypothesis—it should be possible to pinpoint the location of the stage from which he speaks. Timothy Moore, working from these assumptions, concludes:42 [End Page 158]

Given, then, that the choragus does not mention such places farther west in the forum as the temples of Saturn or Concordia, there is every indication that he speaks from a stage just south of the comitium, facing east. Almost everything on the tour would be visible to the choragus and his audience, and spectators would actually be watching the play from some of the locations cited.

The western end of the forum is a credible location. The stage erected by the aedile M. Aemilius Scaurus in 58, perhaps for the ludi Romani, was almost certainly located somewhere toward the west, since to reinstall its notoriously extravagant columns at Scaurus's house near the present site of Titus's arch required moving them the length of the forum.43

Figure 7. Screen Shot: The UCLA Moving Stage facing east as it appears in UCLA's RomeLab ().
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Figure 7.

Screen Shot: The UCLA Moving Stage facing east as it appears in UCLA's RomeLab (

Here, thanks to RomeLab, is a stage that avoids the Sacra Via but remains "just south of the comitium, facing east" [Fig. 7]. [End Page 159]

It becomes immediately clear that what looks plausible on a two-dimensional map is less satisfactory when recreated to scale in three dimensions. None of the porticos or temples that would by Roman custom provide impromptu accommodation for an audience gives anyone a good view of a stage in this position, while the large expanse directly before it is empty save for any seats set up for the occasion. There would be room for a grandstand, but grandstands are (as we have seen) unattested for this period and would have disrupted other activity in what we know continued to be a busy commercial area, while the near-by Cloaca Maxima may itself have posed a serious obstacle.44 In addition, such a stage would not be easily seen from the rostra, which at least in later times is attested as a vantage point.45 And, of course, an audience facing west would for a good part of the day be facing the sun.

Reversing the relative positions of actors and audience and moving the stage further west might ease these difficulties. The sun would then be at the spectators' back, with Capitoline Jupiter looming from a distance over their shoulders.46 This area between the forum proper and the route up the Capitol (the clivus Capitolinus) was dominated by the temple of Saturn on its very high podium, and beyond it to the north and west was (probably at this period) the temple of Concordia. These temples would themselves provide some kind of seating, as would the ground itself, which in the second century began rising significantly from the forum toward the Capitol. That is the view from Figure 8, suggesting that the landmarks mentioned by the Choragus would have been visible to a crowd looking down the length of the [End Page 160] forum. Improvements not long after Plautus's time might have enhanced the suitability of this space for an audience: Livy records that the censors of 174 paved the clivus Capitolinus and built a colonnade extending from the temple of Saturn, past the Senaculum, and on to the Curia.

Figure 8. Screen Shot: The Forum Romanum ca. 160 looking north toward the Capitol as it appears in UCLA's RomeLab ().
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Figure 8.

Screen Shot: The Forum Romanum ca. 160 b.c.e. looking north toward the Capitol as it appears in UCLA's RomeLab (

Such a structure would have further tied this otherwise transitional area more closely to the forum and enhanced both access to and the viewing of spectacles from the west.47

These assumptions rest, however, on a topographic precision in the Choragus's references that is not beyond question. The forum piscarium (474) [End Page 161] that once adjoined the forum was destroyed by fire in 210 b.c.e. and subsequently relocated to the Tiber,48 while the Velabrum (483) was not part of the forum at all but a neighborhood to the south of it. The lacus (477) is widely taken to be the lacus Curtius because its location best suits the geography of a "tour," but adjacent to the Temple of Castor was another quite prominent lacus, the lacus Juturnae, where Castor and Pollux were said to have refreshed themselves after the Battle of Lake Regillus in 496 b.c.e.49 Still more problematic is the Choragus's claim to find rich, profligate husbands "by the basilica" (ditis damnosos maritos sub basilica quaerito, 472). The Curculio is almost certainly a play of the later 190s, but the first formal basilica at Rome was apparently the Basilica Porcia, built in 184 b.c.e. when Cato was censor.50 The chronological discrepancy is explained in various ways. An earlier structure in the general vicinity was called the Atrium Regium, and Plautus's basilica might possibly be a calque on that name (i.e., [αὐλή] βασιλική). Its shape, function, and exact location are, however, unknown, and in reporting its destruction in the great fire of 210 b.c.e., Livy seems specifically to distinguish it from what to his mind constituted a basilica.51 A simpler solution may lie in Ergasilus's reference in Captivi to "those who hang around basilicas," suggesting a term in general use for any covered commercial space.52 That saves the line for Plautus but at the cost of any identifiable topographic reference.

The issue is further complicated by line 485, ditis damnosos maritos apud Leucadiam Oppiam. It is syntactically detached from what immediately precedes, contains in Leucadiam Oppiam what many consider a dubious hiatus, and looks very like line 472. Modern editors, following the lead of their [End Page 162] sixteenth-century predecessor Joachim Camerarius, bracket it, but is this the correct response? Camerarius suspected the line because he could neither account for its presence in the text nor understand the reference to Leucadia Oppia. We can today do both. The line has long been recognized as a topical reference to a brothel, and we now understand textual doublets like 472/485 to be performance variants reflecting the cumulative history of the Roman acting companies, who initially controlled the scripts.53 These are, then, variants of the same line. Which has the better claim to inclusion between 471 and 473 may be impossible to decide, but a few things are clear. Structurally, line 485 would supply the third in a sequence of objects dependent on ito in line 470, while the hiatus that troubles metricians makes dramatic sense as a pause for effect.54 That the pause comes not after apud, signaling the unexpected change to a landmark on quite a different order from a shrine or public place, but before Oppiam suggests a specific topical joke. Following the Cannae disaster of 216 b.c.e., sumptuary legislation severely restricting conspicuous consumption by Roman matrons was enacted the next year on the initiative of the tribune C. Oppius. Plautus jokes about its provisions in Aulularia (505–35) and Epidicus (225–35). When conditions changed after the defeat of Hannibal, an effort in 195 b.c.e. to repeal this lex Oppia became a major controversy of the day. Though the exact point of topical humor inevitably resists recovery after the fact, it is not hard to imagine that the unexpected association of a brothel with Oppian extravagance furnished material for some kind of comic barb.55 No comparable punch is discernible [End Page 163] in sub basilica quaerito, which seems only an echo of the more pointed ito in comitium. Whether the vaguer joke is more likely to have replaced what looks like a topical joke of the 190s is past knowing, but neither version helps us fix the Choragus's own location in the forum.

Figure 9. Screen Shot: The UCLA moving stage and avatar as they appear before the Temple of Castor ().
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Figure 9.

Screen Shot: The UCLA moving stage and avatar as they appear before the Temple of Castor (

If, then, his description is not topographically anchored, other locations for the stage suggest themselves. The Temple of Castor, a monument of long standing and deeply enmeshed in the public life of the Republic, becomes a possibility. It was set in a suitably spacious corner of the forum, with a tall podium and porch convenient for spectators (Fig. 9).56 [End Page 164]

Nor is it certain that plays were always staged in the same location. If not, the comitium itself, which might be precluded as a venue for the Curculio (ito in comitium, 470), suggests itself as an alternative, perhaps for occasions suited to a smaller space. Livy associates the rigging of awnings over the comitium with the celebration of the ludi Romani in 208 b.c.e., and it was also an area that figured prominently in the aristocratic funeral ritual: the pompa traditionally halted at the rostra, hoping to attract a crowd to hear the laudatio. Plays staged here would also have the advantage of not interfering with commercial activity in the lower forum, and a stage facing the rostra would preserve the privilege of viewing from that height (Fig. 10).57

Figure 10. Screen Shot: The UCLA moving stage and avatar as they appear in the Comitium. The Curia is on the right. ().
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Figure 10.

Screen Shot: The UCLA moving stage and avatar as they appear in the Comitium. The Curia is on the right. (

[End Page 165]

This arrangement seems inadequate for munera that also featured gladiators, since space for both a stage and a gladiatorial ring would be limited, and whether these activities (and the crowds they attracted) would have suited what was in effect the most specifically political space in Rome remains unclear. Even if not fully enclosed, the comitium was certainly an area distinguished physically and ideologically from the rest of the forum and the daily activities that characterized it.58

iv. conclusion

All these possibilities remain hypothetical, bringing an end into view that is not what more traditional methods of inquiry would recognize as a "result." The virtual world explored here may be the next best thing to being there, but it is not "there," as those who build digital models know very well.

… we cannot consider the results of modelling as final since the pace of contemporary technological change always brings innovations (often revolutionary ones) while the work is still in progress. The provisional nature of modelling is also due to the fact that the very process of making a model speeds up the rate at which new insights are made: the pace of research is accelerated by the questions that arise in the course of the modelling process …59

A philologist trained to expect specific answers to specific questions may well balk at the resulting indeterminacy and ask what, besides the indulgence of antiquarian interest, is then gained by imagining these lost spaces. Our inability to answer precise, material questions traces with brutal frankness the boundaries of our ignorance, which is in itself of some value. For one thing, it destabilizes the idea of "theater," which too often conflates a genre of writing, a social activity, and a space. Looking squarely at conditions on the ground means confronting the consequences of what in principle we have long acknowledged about dramatic performance in the time of Plautus and Terence: the lack of a dedicated area meant no enclosure to bring actors and [End Page 166] audience together in a shared commitment to the performance and to shelter them from external distractions. Their "theater" was not a space to engage a substantial proportion of the community as the Theater of Dionysus at Athens did or even, in its own way, as Pompey's Theater must have done. On the contrary, its ephemeral quality suggests a certain lack of consequence to the theatrical undertaking, which may explain why the performance of plays seems to have made so little impression on the keepers of the historical record.

Second, these indications of difference warn us to avoid the synchronic fallacy that encourages the projection of (relatively abundant) first-century evidence onto second-century phenomena. One of the better stories of that later time, for example, is set at the Plebeian Games of 47 b.c.e. when the mimographer Laberius, having performed at Caesar's command in one of his own mimes, had to pass the senators' seats in the orchestra before reclaiming his place among the fourteen rows reserved for equestrians.60 The scene is easy to imagine in the increasingly hierarchical theaters of the late Republic or early empire, but not under the far less formal conditions we have been examining. Nor does it help explain the resentment aroused in 194 b.c.e., when the great Africanus insisted that places separate from the rest be reserved for senators attending the public games. Scipio may have wanted to spare any senators in attendance the indignity of mixing with unruly crowds—the kind of crowds implied by Plautus's prologues—but to imagine 300 senators in full regalia together with family and retainers sitting in ordered rows before the stage (as a recent study of Plautus invites us to do) must be seriously anachronistic.61 There is no evidence that senators in our period ever attended these public festivals en masse to watch plays, much less funerary games held to honor their deceased rivals.

And finally, there are philological benefits in thinking along these nonphilological lines. Better understanding of the conditions for which Plautus and Terence wrote gives us a better sense of what they were called upon to create and what, as an artifact of that creation, the surviving texts represent. That knowledge should have a bearing on how we edit and how we interpret [End Page 167] those texts, especially when confronted with the inconsistencies and doublets that—thinking back to living theater—may indicate not "corruption" but the ceaseless modification of a working script. Comparing the marked changes in theater practice between the second and first centuries can also tell us something important about the changing place of drama in the Roman cultural experience and, looking in the other direction, comparing original Roman stage practice with all that we know about Greek theatrical practice puts us in a better position to take the measure of the changes wrought as a traditional Greek art form became a new Roman one. These are significant benefits and well worth the effort required to imagine the production of Roman plays before the time of Roman theaters.

Sander M. Goldberg
University of California, Los Angeles

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* Acknowledging the institutions and individuals who have aided this investigation is as much a pleasure as a duty. The work was facilitated by support from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the T. B. L. Webster Fellowship of the Institute of Classical Studies, London, and the UCLA Academic Senate. A preliminary version of the present essay became the 2012 Webster Lecture at the ICS, with variants delivered at the APA (now SCS), the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of British Columbia. Individuals whose advice was always gratefully received (if not always sufficiently heeded) include Eric Csapo, Hugh Denard, Mary-Kay Gamel, Sharon James, Toph Marshall, Tim Moore, and especially Chris Johanson, who first showed me how digital humanities can be so much more than smoke and mirrors. The comments and suggestions of TAPA's editor and referees have also been most helpful. Ancient authors are cited whenever possible from their Oxford editions. Translations are my own.

1. So Evanth. De fab. 3.8 (on the Terentianae virtutes): nihil ad populum facit actorem velut extra comoediam loqui, quod vitium Plauti frequentissimum. ("He has the actor make no speech to the audience outside the comedy, which is a very common fault of Plautus.") The old debate over illusion in ancient dramaturgy has been largely superseded by discussion of its "metatheatricality." On the former, see Sifakis 1971: 7–14, Görler 1973, Bain 1977: 3–7; for the latter, Slater 1985: 3–18, Gutzwiller 2000, Sharrock 2009: 96–100.

2. The two closest parallels are Halisca at a comparable moment of loss (Cist. 678–79) and Menaechmus II, also in despair (Men. 879–80), but neither approaches Euclio's extended and personal appeal to a single spectator, emphasized here by the stress on tu tibi. On this passage, see Stürner 2011: 240–42. Plautine prologues play in various ways with the idea of illusion, from simple acknowledgement of the audience's presence to more elaborate interactions. Their range is surveyed by Hollmann 2016: 41–116. On the broader issue of the actor-audience relationship in Plautus, see Moore 1998: 8–23. The text of Aul. here is cited from Leo 1895. OCT and subsequent editions relocate lines 718–19 between 716 and 717, but the MS. order better suits the timing of the accompanying stage business.

3. Modern versions of this device often plant a "spectator" in the audience and script an ostensibly impromptu exchange, but the effect is no less unnerving since the audience remains unaware of the truth. For the Roman terms: Pl. Poen. 20 dum histrio in scaena siet ("while the actor is on the stage": cf. Amph. 91, Pseud. 568); Pl. Amph. 65–6: ut conquisitores singula in subsellia/eant per totam caveam ("to have inspectors go through all the seats throughout the theater": cf. 68, Truc. 931).

4. A combination of field surveys and computer modeling has revealed much more of Pompey's theater than once seemed possible. Compare the basics in Hanson 1959: 43–55 and Gros 1999 with the findings of The Pompey Project at For what is known of temporary theaters in the first century, see Golvin 1988: 30–32.

5. So Livy Per. 48 records that a stone theater nearly completed in 154 b.c.e. was razed after being declared useless and harmful to public morals (inutile et nociturum publicis moribus). The moralizing narrative that continues in Val. Max. 2.4.1–3, Plin. HN 36.11320, Tac. Ann. 14.20–21 becomes inseparable from the factual record, for which see Gruen 1992: 205–10, North 1992 (on another possible attempt to build a permanent theater in 107) and Wiseman 2009: 163–64, plausibly suggesting that the scaena for aediles and praetors (scaenam aedilibus praetoribusque praebendam, Livy 41.27.5) sponsored by the censors of 174 b.c.e. was a tribunal rather than a stage. See further n. 20 below.

6. So Seltzer 1966: 128: "Shakespeare wrote always in a manner which made best use of the theatrical facilities available to him." The case for dramaturgical differences between Globe plays and Blackfriars plays was first made, albeit too confidently, by Bentley 1948. See now Stern 2006: 41–51, with a helpful summary in Shapiro 2011: 249–51.

7. Cic. Fam. 7.1.2, describing the inaugural shows, mocks the 600 mules used in a Clytemnestra and in The Trojan Horse vast piles of booty along with staged combat between cavalry and infantry (quid enim delectationis habent sescenti muli in 'Clytaemestra' aut in 'Equo Troiano' creterrarum tria milia aut armatura varia peditatus et equitatus in aliqua pugna?).

8. The stage reconstructed in Smith 2003: 164 combines proportions gleaned from the Room of the Masks in the House of Augustus and the discussion at Vitr. De arch. 5.6. It lacks the wing entrances necessitated by ancient scripts (mentioned at Vitr. De arch. 5.6.8) but seems in other important respects congruent with their requirements.

9. So Lucr. 4.81–82 inclusa theatri moenia ("the enclosed walls of the theater") and Hor. Epist. 2.1.60–61 arto stipata theatro … Roma ("Rome crammed into a pokey theater"). Improved acoustics was the apparent motivation (Vitr. De Arch. 5.6.4). The design was not unique to permanent structures. The notorious revolving wooden theaters erected in 53 b.c.e. by C. Scribonius Curio must have been complete buildings (Plin. HN 36.115–20). They were still being used in 51 b.c.e. (Cic. Fam. 8.2.1). Sear 2006: 1–3 sets out the formal characteristics of Roman theater design based on his survey of ancient sites.

10. Thus cavea as "coop," without theatrical overtones, at Pl. Curc. 449: in cavea si forent conclusi, itidem ut pulli gallinacei ("if they [Therapontigonus's vanquished foes] were shut into a coop just like chickens"). So, too, Capt. 124, Cist. 732. The basic premise of Goldberg 1998 concerning the improvisational nature of Roman venues for dramatic performance is gaining acceptance, e.g., Marshall 2006: 36–8, Manuwald 2011: 56–7, but its broader implications have been slower to spread.

11. There is no good reason to doubt the testimony of the Bembine didascalia that it was performed at the Megalensia of 165 b.c.e. (acta ludis Megalensibus Sexto Iulio Caesare C. Cornelio Dolabella aedilibus curulibus). The historicity of Terence's specific calamitas is less certain (thus the doubts, for quite different reasons, of Gruen 1992: 210–18, Parker 1996: 592–601, Sharrock 2009: 246–49), but to be rhetorically effective, the grounds claimed for the play's failure must at least have been congruent with the audience's general experience. For boxers by the stage, cf. Hor. Epist. 2.1.185–86. There is no indication, pace Parker 1996: 594–95, that the populus distracted by these activities was any other than the crowd gathered for the play.

12. Perches protect the hens' feet from infection by contact with the ground. Varro, Rust. 3.9.7 stresses the need for them (in caveis crebrae perticae traiectae sint, ut omnes sustinere possint gallinas). Also Columella, Rust. 8.3.7. Quite similar is the arrangement of spectators on bleachers in the oft-reproduced Etruscan frieze, preserved now only as a drawing, in the Tomba delle Bighe at Tarquinia. Wiseman 2015: 51–55 takes too literally the idea of cavea as "enclosure."

13. Taplin 1993: 36–41 (Telephos); Taplin 1993: 30–32, Marshall 2001, Csapo 2010: 45–51 (Goose Play). Bacilieri 2001 provides a good survey of this material. For its use as evidence for actual stage practice, see Hughes 2012: 69–73, Green 2012: 306–12. The corpus of these vases continues to grow, as does dissatisfaction with the term phlyax to characterize them. See Dearden 2012.

14. Bacilieri 2001: 38–40 distinguishes three types of stage based on the presence or absence of these features, but whether these variations represent genuine differences in theatrical (as distinct from artistic) practice, much less differences over time, is hardly certain.

15. Among possible exceptions is the New York Goose Play (PhV 84), which may depict a spectator off to the left, leading Csapo 2010: 47 to claim that the painter "captures on the surface of a pot the very fullness of the theatrical experience."

16. Rinthon, the putative inventor of the phlyax genre, was active at Taras ca. 300 b.c.e., i.e., some sixty years before that other Tarentine, Livius Andronicus, began producing plays at Rome. See Taplin 1993: 48–54, and more broadly Manuwald 2011: 26–30, Feeney 2016: 94–98. Plautus's Amphitruo may contain an echo of phlyax drama: Alcmene-like figures appear on two well-known vases, PhV 36 and 65. Bosher 2013 suggests a connection, however tentative, between the prevalence of comic slaves on the Italian vases and the emergence of the servus callidus as a central figure in Roman comedy.

17. Wiseman 2008: 123. The surrounding discussion (109–24) presses the evidence harder than some might approve, but cf. the indirect support in Robinson 2004 and Carpenter 2009, detailing the interest in Greek performance motifs on pottery produced for native Italian markets. So too Taplin 2012: 247–50.

18. Ramps seem preferable to steps since they allow a greater range of stage business. These dimensions are congruent with the revised measurements in Hughes 2012: 71, now suggesting a height of 0.7–1.6m, a width from 9–10m, and a depth of 3.5–4.5m, not allowing (as here) for a staging area behind the doors.

19. Illustrations and annotation are available at The case was first made at length by Beacham 1991: 69–82. See also Leach 2004: 93–122.

20. Saunders 1913, Hanson 1959: 9–26, Goldberg 1998: 10–13, Wiseman 2015: 55–59. Suspicion of theaters as places of popular assembly in the Greek world may also have played a role in raising senatorial qualms, together with the pressures of aristocratic competition. For these considerations see Gruen 1992: 205–10, Holleran 2003 185–89, Marconi 2012: 48–53, Tan 2016. For the likelihood of the (later?) Megalensia extending down into the Lupercal, see Wiseman 1974: 168–69 and for the results of recent excavations on the Palatine site, Pensabene and D'Alessio 2006, esp. 42–47.

21. The distinction between public and private can be difficult to maintain in the Roman context, where even public celebrations like the ludi Romani received private subsidies and supported the personal interests of the sponsoring magistrates, as of course did votive games of all kinds. See Csapo 2010: 179–93, Bernstein 1998: 268–82.

22. Cic. Leg. 2.61–62 funus ut indicatur, si quid ludorum ("that a funeral be announced if there are to be games") implies the possibility of funerals without attendant shows. Cf. Pl. Most. 427–28, with its pun on ludus "trick" and (the option of) ludi funebres.

23. Polyb. 6.53. His description, offered to support the observation that Roman institutions develop civic virtues in the young, may well be truncated, though a mention of gladiators might also have served his purpose. (Cf. Cic. Tusc. 2.41 on the gladiator as moral exemplum.) The emphasis at 31.28.5 is not on the gladiators at Paullus's funeral per se but on Scipio's willingness to pay for them on his brother's behalf. For pompa and laudatio, see Flower 1996: 91–158, and for the performance of funeral rites in the forum space, Favro and Johanson 2010. It is important to remember—and too often forgotten—that the fact of a funeral in progress was not in itself sufficient to halt the conduct of public business elsewhere in the vicinity (Cic. De Or. 2.225, Hor. Sat. 1.6.42–44).

24. Livy 41.28.11: munera gladiatorum eo anno aliquot, parva alia, data ("a few games with gladiators were presented that year, and other small ones"). The exception that year was the funeral of the great Flamininus, when thirty-seven pairs fought. Cf. the notice of Valerius Laevinus's funeral in 200 (Livy 31.50.4). Welch 2007: 18–22 rightly notes how incomplete the record probably is. Taylor 1937: 299 finds only five such citations in the extant text of Livy. There is no evidence for the claim that by 160 gladiators "were an indispensable part of the ludi funebres" (Gilula 1989: 286).

25. So Val. Max. 2.10.3: quod spectaculum funeri speciem alterius triumphi adiecit ("the show gave the funeral the aspect of another triumph"). See also Plut. Aem. 39.7–8, Diod. Sic. 31.25. The funeral procession of a distinguished soldier might easily echo the glory of his past triumphs (Flower 1996: 107–9).

26. The question was settled independently by Gilula 1981 and Sandbach 1982, though the old view endures even in Conte 1994: 94, "in 160, everyone left when, right in the middle of the performance, word went around that a show of gladiators was starting just then." Sponsors of a funeral were expected to provide an attendant (accensus) and lictors (Cic. Leg. 2.62), suggesting that order could be difficult to maintain. The historicity of Terence's account has been questioned, e.g., Gruen 1992: 210–18 and Sharrock 2009: 246–49, but it remains at the least evidence for what could conceivably have happened at a performance.

27. Jory 1986: 537–38, Welch 2007: 30–31. Plays may also have been staged in the forum in conjunction with the ludi Romani: Saunders 1913: 92–95, Moore 1991: 358, Purcell 1995: 331. The inference from the wording of Livy's notices that stage performances and gladiators were scheduled on different days (Taylor 1937: 299) is not easily reconciled with Terence's explicit testimony to the contrary (pace Parker 1996: 597–98).

28. So Ascon. 42C on the conditions in 52 b.c.e. when Cicero spoke in Milo's defense: tantum silentium toto foro fuit quantum esse in aliquo foro posset ("there was silence throughout the forum, as much as was possible in any forum"). Russell 2016: 47–49, drawing the appropriate conclusion, observes that the forum was "noisy, dirty, and chaotic, and confronted visitors with a bewildering variety of claims on their attention. Architecturally, it was a mish-mash of buildings of different styles and periods, few on any kind of coherent orientation and all advertising their own patrons." Purcell 1995: 333–34 notes the varied economic functions essential to a forum. Cf. Varro, Ling. 5.145 on its roots in commerce and Lucil. 1145–51W (1228–34M) on the incessant activity there festo atque profesto.

29. Welch offers several possible configurations, all of similar dimensions extrapolated from extant Campanian arenas, which generally measure just under 70m along the longitudinal axis (189–90). Other, later arenas can be even larger: dimensions for all known sites are catalogued by Golvin 1988: 283–89.

30. The plausibility of Welch's reconstruction was already questioned by Wiseman 2009: 158–62, who thought it anachronistic for the second century. What is known of the two ancient shrines is conveniently illustrated by Claridge 1998: 68–69, 85–88 and Freyberger and Ertel 2016: 22–23. No remains of the lacus Curtius survive from our period. Welch 1994: 76n41 seems to imagine both landmarks somehow covered by the temporary structure.

31. So Golvin 1988: 300, "L'arène devait donc être assez vaste pour contenir tous ces éléments et permettre aux personnages et aux animaux d'évoluer avec assez d'aisance afin de montrer leurs capacités." Inscriptional evidence showing the formulaic combination of programs at Pompeii is conveniently gathered by Futrell 2006: 44–47. The first attested venatio at Rome was at Fulvius Nobilior's votive games in 186 (Livy 39.22.2). These shows probably took place in the Circus; the forum was first used for a venatio in 46, for Caesar's triumphal games (Dio Cass. 43.22.3–23.3). Caesar's record of innovation makes it extremely hazardous to apply any late Republican evidence to earlier times. See Coleman 2003: 62–65.

32. The figures derive from Sear 2006: 388–89 (Athens), 328–29 (Aphrodisias), 334–36 (Ephesus), 411–12 (Dodona). The arena created at Curium in Cyprus is smaller (21.6m.); the remodeled orchestra at Tauromenium grew from 28m. to 34m. (Sear, 381–82 and 192–94 respectively). See also his summary discussion at 43–44, and for the accommodation of Roman-style spectacles in Greek theaters, Di Napoli 2015: 373–76.

33. The canonical view was succinctly put by Schneider 1918: 762: "Beamte hatten rings um das Forum, wo das Spiel stattfinden sollte, Gerüste errichtet, um daruf Zuschauerplätze zu vermieten." Welch 1994: 69 imagines "a temporary, wooden structure of some kind" on the strength of Golvin 1988: 20, 56–58, who does not himself cite any ancient evidence for such a structure.

34. Plut. C. Gracch. 12.4. The demolition was overnight, which suggests a fairly simple set of structures. The magistrates seem to be Gracchus's fellow tribunes (so Purcell 1995: 331), but the tribunes' role in the presentation of gladiators (and their action against the people's interest) is hard to imagine.

35. Contrast Plutarch's description of Paullus's triumph, when stands (ἰκρία) erected in the circus and forum provided additional places to watch the procession (Aem. 32.2). The crowds for state occasions were presumably much larger, requiring special arrangements all along the route.

36. Antiquarians traced the use of private balconies (maeniana) to view shows in the forum back to the censor C. Maenius in 318 (Festus, Gloss. Lat. 120.1–3), but the tradition smacks of folk etymology and is confused by Cato's acquisition in 184 of an atrium Maenium for the site of his basilica (Livy 39.44.7, Ps-Ascon. ad Div. Caec. 50 [p. 201 Stangl], Porph. ad Hor. Sat. 1.3.21), the existence of a Republican monument near the Comitium known as the Columna Maenia (Schol. Bob. ad Cic. Sest. 124 [p. 137 Stangl], Non. 91L.), and the eventual use of the term maeniana generally for a balcony room. The evidence is clearly presented by Lehmann-Hartleben 1938: 282–85, his interpretation of it challenged by Boethius 1945: 94–100. For the relevance of the Maenian column, see Conese 2012: 42–47, and for later use of the term maeniana, Bonner 1977: 121–23.

37. So on Sestius's appearance at Scipio's munus in 57, tantus est ex omnibus spectaculis usque a Capitolio, tantus ex fori cancellis plausus excitatus ("as much applause arose from all places as far as the Capitol as from the barriers in the forum," Cic. Sest. 124). Caesar, when offering gladiators as dictator, once covered the entire Forum et clivum usque in Capitolium ("and the road up to the Capitol") with awnings, which would hardly have been required if the Capitol's slope was not itself a vantage point (Plin. HN 19.23).

38. Cf. Millar 1998: 147, "It was a crucially important characteristic of Roman public life that a wide variety of events took place, on no clearly regulated timetable, in the same physical space, the Forum. … To convert the Forum for a gladiatorial munus, all that was needed was to line it with barriers, cancelli (for theatrical ludi, in contrast, an actual temporary wooden theater might be constructed)." I would, of course, substitute "stage" for "theater." No Republican source distinguishes cavea and arena. The traditional distinction when describing ludi was between cavea and circus, since racing's spatial requirement was unique. Thus Livy, recording Fulvius Flaccus's dedication of a temple to Fortuna Equestris in 172: scaenicos ludos per quadriduum, unum diem in circo fecit ("he held scaenic games for four days, one day in the circus," 42.10.5). Cf. Cic. Leg. 2.38, distinguishing musical shows in the theater and athletic competitions in the circus.

39. RomeLab, directed by Professor Chris Johanson, is a project of the UCLA Experiential Technology Center ( Coordinating the traditional virtues of a static scholarly text with the interactive capabilities of experiential models such as those created by RomeLab remains a major challenge for digital humanities. The screen shots that follow are intended to illustrate not so much the argument as the capabilities of the model: readers are encouraged to use these open access models to explore for themselves the possibilities and problems that the text seeks to identify.

40. The tibicen Flaccus and the kind of pipes he played are identified in all the Terentian didascaliae; a parallel reference to the tibicen Marcipor appears in the didascalia to Stichus. For the dramatic contribution of the tibicen, see Marshall 2006: 234–44, Moore 2012: 135–39. Efforts to reconstruct the sound of Roman music are ongoing, e.g., by the groups Synaulia in Italy ( and Musica Romana in Germany (, while the acoustic properties of the forum are being investigated under the rubric "Auralisation of Ancient Spaces" by the Image Knowledge Gestaltung at Humboldt-University Berlin. Some of their preliminary findings are reported in Kassung and Schwesinger 2016.

41. Capt. 778–79 ut comici servi solent ("as comic slaves are accustomed to do"). The desire to find people in the way, all the better to do them violence, is later taken up by Ter. Ad. 311–20. For the hallmarks of the currens pose, see Csapo 1993. Moore 1991: 345–50 notes that the Choragus's targets are largely stock palliata characters and thus particularly suited to a play that is itself rich in stock characters and scenes.

42. Moore 1991: 359, refined by Moore 1998: 131–39. The idea of a "tour" was enshrined in the commentary of Ussing (1878: 565) and then the apparatus of Leo's edition (1895).

43. Plin. HN 26.5–6 and 113–15, and for the location of Scaurus's house, Ascon. 27C and the finds discussed by Patterson 1992: 200–3.

44. Plautus's propter canalem (Curc. 476) suggests at the least an observable feature, not a covered ditch: Scaurus had to guarantee the integrity of the drains when moving his columns across the forum, suggesting their vulnerability to heavy traffic (above, n. 43). By 194, seats before the stage were provided for senators, first at the ludi Romani and then, presumably, on other occasions, though the privilege aroused resentment (see below, n. 61). The longstanding debate over seating in the Roman theater, well discussed in traditional terms by Moore 1994, is altered significantly if we envision not the enclosed structures of the late Republic but the more impromptu venues that Plautus and Terence knew.

45. Livy 27.36.8–9 (208 b.c.e.) implies a link between ludi Romani and comitium. Cic. Phil. 9.16 shows that, at least in the post-Caesarian forum, both plays and gladiators were visible from the rostra. Welch 1994: 76n42 acknowledges this issue. Note that the bare stage-structure of the model would in practice have expanded at the wings and behind to provide working space for cast and crew.

46. Thus Wiseman 2015: 57 writes of "an audience facing south-east, sitting below the Capitol to watch what Jupiter was imagined to be watching, from his temple above and beyond." So, too, Marshall 2006: 40–43.

47. Livy 41.27.7: et clivom Capitolinum silice sternendum curaverunt, et porticum ab aede Saturni in Capitolium ad senaculum, ac super id curiam. These censors paid considerable attention to the city's performance spaces: they also provided proper starting gates and a lap counter for the Circus as well as a new tribunal. For the porticus, see Richardson 1980: 60–62. The structure as represented at the top of the model is entirely hypothetical. Ostensible obstacles like the Senaculum, where members gathered until the Senate was called into session, and the Graecostasis below it, where foreign delegations assembled to await the Senate's summons, were not themselves formal structures.

48. Livy 26.27.2–4 records the devastation of private residences and commercial structures in the fire of 210 b.c.e. For Varro L. 5.146, the forum piscarium is secundum Tiberim ad <Por>tunium.

49. Val. Max. 1.8.1, Plut. Aem. 25.2, Coriol. 3.4. For Varro, Ling. 5.150 the lacus Curtius seems to be only a small fenced area: nothing survives of its early Republican form. See Giuliani 1996, and for the better documented lacus Iuturnae, Steinby 1996.

50. Livy 39.44.7. For the date of Curculio, see Slater 1987, Moore 1998: 130–31.

51. Livy 26.27.3: neque enim tum basilicae erant ("there were then no basilicas"). The atrium was apparently rebuilt the following year (Livy 27.11.16), which may suggest some public significance and led Welch 2003: 13–19 to identify it, despite Livy's statement, as Rome's first basilica. Freyberger and Ertel 2016: 31–35 take the earliest remains found under the Basilica Aemilia as evidence for a basilica there that would predate the Basilica Porcia, but the material record is inconclusive and requires their uncritical acceptance of Plautus's testimony. For the ambiguous public/private status of early atria, see Russell 2016: 83–87.

52. subbasilicanos, Capt. 815. The coinage sounds like a colloquialism. Cf. Caelius's subrostrani (Cic. Fam. 8.1.4) in a context full of urban slang.

53. Notable examples are Cist. 120–33/190–93 and 703–25 (discussed by Goldberg 2004) and Asin. 249–53, Pseud. 1136–39, Poen. 123–28 (identified by Marshall 2006: 266–72); for the instability of the early Plautine text more generally, see Deufert 2002: 18–43. Hec. 790–91 is a Terentian example. Ussing 1878: 568 rightly understood the line as adding the name of a contemporary madam (Interpolator [sic] nomen meretricis suo tempore notae intrusit…). Contrast Camerarius 1558: 277, Quid illud autem fit, apud Leucadiam Oppiam, et quomodo hic versus inculcatus hoc loco, nescio. The case for its exclusion is summarized by Moore 1991: 358.

54. Questa 2007: 193–94 calls this type of hiatus "stylistic," marking what Lindsay 1922: 251–54 describes as "an unexpected turn of the sentence." Hiatus with a similar effect ends Curc. 334 and 358. Cf. Aul. 55 (etiam | ohe), a phonetically comparable hiatus, though for a different rhetorical purpose.

55. Actual evidence for a brothel in the forum is controversial: see Moore 1991: 358n51. Another possible connection: Plautus's tibicen Marcipor was the slave (or freedman) of an Oppius (Didasc. Stich.), but whether this was the tribune Oppius, the aedile (later praetor) L. Oppius Salinator, or some other Oppius remains unknown. For the debate over repeal of the Oppian law, see Livy 34.1–8, Val. Max. 9.1.3, Zonar. 9.17. Analysis by Culham 1982, and for Plautus's treatment of sumptuary laws more generally, Gruen 1990: 143–46.

56. The temple was vowed at the Battle of Lake Regillus and dedicated in 484 b.c.e. (Livy 2.20.12, 2.42.5). Cic. Verr. 2.1.129 recalls its importance in Roman civic life.

57. Marshall 2006: 44–47 instead sets the stage directly before the rostra, facing north, but the RomeLab model reveals difficult sight-lines for that configuration. Landmarks to the southeast would not be visible. For awnings at the ludi Romani of 208, Livy 27.36.8: eo anno … comitium tectum esse memoriae proditum est, et ludos Romanos semel instauratos ab aedilibus curulibus Q. Metello et C. Servilio.

58. On the topography and ideology of the Comitium space, see Russell 2016: 62–71, Hölkeskamp 2004: 158–63. Also helpful, though focused on the late Republic, Morstein-Marx 2004: 42–57.

59. Giuliani in Frischer et al. 2006: 166, who also acknowledges the inevitable inadequacy of archaeological data for reconstructing a fully realized picture of any ancient reality. For academic resistance to modeling and re-creation more generally, see Favro 2006: 324–28. The London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage, discussed by Denard 2012, is among the most notable efforts to define standards for the methodological rigor and dissemination of such projects.

60. Suet. Iul. 39.2 is explicit, although possibly himself anachronistic, about the arrangements when he writes of Laberius returning from the stage through rows in the orchestra (sessum in quattuordecim e scaena per orchestram transiit). For the accompanying exchange of quips when he passed Cicero, see Sen. Controv. 7.3.9–10, Macrob. Sat. 7.3.8, and Panayotakis 2010: 56–57.

61. Fontaine 2010: 185–87. The details and motives of Scipio's initiative are obscure in the sources: Cic. Har. resp. 24, Ascon. 69–70C (the Megalensia); Livy 34.44.5, 34.54.3–8, Val. Max. 2.4.3 (the ludi Romani).

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